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New research shows that those who are outcasts at school are more likely to succeed in life.

New research shows that those who are outcasts at school are more likely to succeed in life.

Have you ever worried about whether your child has enough friends at school? Have you felt like a bit of an outsider at work or at college? The latest research suggests, not only that we tend to worry too much about these things but, feeling like a loner or an outcast is something that we should positively celebrate.

Research from the University of Virginia, suggests that there is an inverse relationship between how popular people are at school and how successful they are in life. The study, which was published in the journal Child Development, tracked the lives of 184 adolescents over ten years. It found that not only are those kids who have fewer friends more likely to be successful. Those who are considered the cool kids, are significantly more likely, than their less popular counterparts, to mess things up later in life.

Parents worry about whether their children are lonely. Most of us will worry at some stage about our own popularity. To many people, even the mildest sense of social isolation can be a source of anxiety.

We worry about these things because our minds are susceptible to a number of fallacies. For one, we are likely to mistake a temporary situation for a permanent one. What’s more we are likely to over estimate the extent to which things are attributable to a person’s character, as opposed to the context or circumstances. We start to think little Timmy doesn’t have a lot of friends because he doesn’t make friends easily. He’d be better off choosing a career that doesn’t involve working with people.

We recommend a way to remedy these thinking flaws. Ask yourself in what ways could this situation be:

- Temporary?
- Context-specific?
- Changeable?

If the answer is ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ to any of the above, you are likely to find yourself feeling less stressed, more optimistic and able to function better.

As we say in the opening chapter of Be Bulletproof:

Look at the biographical details of most high achievers. Far from leading consistently gilded lives, most of these people spent long periods in the wilderness.

Why are less popular kids more successful? It’s during periods in the social wilderness that interesting minds are formed. The same is true for an adult who experiences a period of feeling like an outsider. Always functioning at the same level of popularity, requires an easy clubbable blandness, that eludes the most curious and original minds. As the philosopher Carl Jung put it.

… As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things, which others apparently know nothing of and for the most part do not want to know… Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself.

Not only are periods of feeling lonely, not necessarily damaging, on the contrary, they should be celebrated. In e we explore the idea of the cave. It’s an idea that comes from the notion of the Hero’s Journey, a universal story structure about personal growth and challenge. The cave is the darkest part of our journey. It is the point at which we might feel, lost, beaten, broken, or of course, lonely. The cave is also the part of the journey where we most readily learn and grow.

It puts me in mind of the story of a shop-owner’s daughter from a dull Lincolnshire town who went up to Oxford in the 1940s to study chemistry. She found it difficult to fit in and became a bit of an outsider. Because of her small-town attitudes she was given the nick-name ‘Snobby Roberts’. In fact Roberts was her maiden name. She became better known by her married name, Thatcher. Yes, that’s the one. Love her or loathe her, she certainly made a difference.

Buy Be Bulletproof: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Be-Bulletproof-achieve-success-tough/dp/009193981X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406115654&sr=8-1&keywords=be+bulletproof

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Are women less confident than men? And if so what can they do about it?

Are women less confident than men – and if so, what can they do about it?

Hillary Clinton is said to have observed: “When I say to a young woman, ‘I want you to take on this extra responsibility,’ almost invariably she says, ‘Do you think I’m ready?’ But when I ask a man, he goes, ‘How high, how fast, when do I start?!’”

So, are women really less confident than men? This is the thesis of an important new book The Confidence Code by TV reporters Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. They argue that there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that women are more inclined to be worriers whereas men are more inclined to be risk takers. According to Kay and Shipman, this holds women back in their careers and leaves the opportunities to be snapped up by their more risk-tolerant male colleagues.

A global professional services organisation with whom we work sought to find out why so many initiatives to increase the number of female partners had failed. Like may professional services firms, they were awash with talented women at senior manager and director level, but at partner level it was a different story – women were few and far between. Was the company really that sexist? It believed that it had tried hard to dispel any ‘Boys club’ image.

Opportunities for promotion – how women view it differently to men

However, as the firm explored the situation more deeply, a fascinating insight emerged. When offered the opportunity to be promoted to partner level women were far more likely to express disquiet if they didn’t feel that they met almost all the criteria, whereas men tended to leap in with both feet if they felt that they at least met some of these requirements.

Women are more inclined to be perfectionists, Kay and Shipman argue. This means that they are more likely to expend energy worrying about shortcomings and less willing to push themselves forward for opportunities. Women are also more inclined to blame themselves for failures while attributing successes to factors that they can’t claim credit for, such as the work of other people, or the situation.

In Be Bulletproof we refer to the phenomenon of ‘Defensive Externalism.’ This describes the tendency to take credit personally for our successes while dismissing our failures as being due to factors outside of our control. Obviously blaming the rest of the world every time something goes wrong is not a good idea – you need to be aware when something really is your fault.

Dealing with failures

However, research shows that people who deploy Defensive Externalism as a tactic when they suffer knockbacks do tend to be more successful than the rest of us. Perhaps we can learn from them. This seems to be a more successful strategy than holding ourselves entirely accountable for any failures that we may have brought upon ourselves.

And it won’t surprise you too much to hear that men are more inclined to deploy Defensive Externalism than women. Indeed it appears that women tend to deploy defensive externalism in reverse.

We also argue in Be Bulletproof that many of our instinctive responses to situations are inherited from our ancestors for whom they proved the best tactics to survive and pass on our genes. In the history of our species, women required a greater ability to scan their environment for threat, whereas for men, a display of risk-taking may have made sense, to increase their chances of attracting a mate. Numerous experiments show that men’s propensity for risk increases significantly when in the presence of attractive females. This also explains why men are significantly more likely to die young, in every society across the world, due to accidents or lethal conflicts. So it’s not all good news for men.

Kay and Shipman argue that some of these differences have a neuro-biological basis. They maintain that women tend to have a larger and more active anterior cingulate, the part of the brain most associated with worry. Men have higher levels of testosterone, the neuro-hormone most associated with confidence and risk-taking.

How women can develop confidence

Now, some of these ideas are naturally quite controversial, so please allow me a couple of caveats. First, of course, as with all social science, this doesn’t apply to all women. These are broad patterns – we all know that there are some very confident women. Second, as we argue passionately in Be Bulletproof, because something has in part an innate, or neuro-biological explanation, it does not follow that we are powerless to do anything about it. There are plenty of strategies that we can use to counterbalance our inherited habits.

There’s a wealth of proven methods in Be Bulletproof, but here at the top five that will help women to close the confidence gap:

1. Physical stance: Remember standing in a bold assertive way will increase your level of circulating testosterone.

2. Run the movie in your mind: Reliving a recent achievement or success that you’ve enjoyed, will have the same effect.

3. Ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?: So you go for that promotion when you’re not 100 per cent ready for it, what’s the worst that could happen? Are the consequences so bad that it’s really not worth going for it?

4. Modify your rigid rule: We tend to make up rules for ourselves and when these rules become too rigid they limit our effectiveness. Perfectionism is a form of rigid rule…. ‘I must always be perfect…’ or ‘I should always be 100 per cent qualified…’ Try modifying this to something that retains the essence, but gives you more flexibility or room to manoeuvre. A good way to do this is to use the phrase, ‘I prefer to…but I’m OK if…”

5. Try out a new behaviour: Psychologist talk about ‘behavioural experiments’. If you want to change, try doing something different, that breaks with the pattern of the ways you ordinarily do things. Try doing something, perhaps just one small thing, that’s unusually bold, or outside of your comfort zone, then become aware of how it felt. By taking a quick test drive of the way you want to be, bit by bit you will become more comfortable with it.

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Does your body language really affect your state of mind and can you fake it?

New research indicates that, not only does our physical stance affect our state of mind; it seems to affect it in profound ways that are far from obvious.
Consciously adopting confident, assertive body language really can help in difficult meetings and challenging situations. Your body language affects those you are dealing with. We discuss the research that backs this up in Be Bulletproof How to Achieve Success in Tough Times at Work.

The latest research takes this further. It shows that if you really want a friend or colleague to be honest and to say it as it is, you should ask them to put their hand on their heart.

Two psychologists from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities at Sopot in Poland asked a group of male undergraduates to assess the attractiveness of a group of women. It was suggested that the women were friends of the organisers. However, the participants were tipped off that half of the women had been rated as being unattractive and the other half as being moderately attractive on a website.

As the participants rated the women, from one, which was “definitely unattractive” to nine, which meant “definitely attractive”, they were told to put their hand either on their heart or on their hip.

The findings revealed those who had put their hand on their heart were harsher and more honest in their assessments of the women previously categorised as unattractive compared with participants who had their hand on their hip. In contrast, there was no difference between the groups in the ratings they gave to the women categorised previously as moderately attractive.

According to the researchers, thanks to its cultural significance, the gesture of putting a hand on the heart automatically activates concepts in the brain relating to honesty, thereby increasing the participants’ directness in their ratings of the less attractive women.

These findings were in line with results from the entire series of experiments conducted by the researchers. In another test, for instance, participants used more words related to honesty and integrity when asked to describe a woman photographed holding her hand on her heart, as opposed to putting it on her stomach.

Participants in another trial rated the boastful claims of a job candidate as more credible when she was photographed holding her hand on her heart, as opposed to having her hands behind her back.

So our body language does affect our state of mind, but to what extent can we fake it? There are of course limitations to one’s ability to imitate an emotion. Many people believe that smiling makes us happier, but this doesn’t seem to square with what some body language experts have been telling us for years. There is a difference between a fake smile and a smile that stems from a genuine, automatic emotional response. The smile we display when we are putting it on centers entirely on the mouth area, while a genuine happy smile involves the whole face, most notably the instinctive crinkling around the eyes, an involuntary reaction of the orbicularis oculi muscles. (This is sometimes referred to as a Duchenne smile after a French physician who experimented with electrodes.) As this kind of smile can’t be faked, it’s a sure-fire way of spotting the difference between a phony smile and a genuine smile. Except it turns out that it’s not.

Latest research shows that we have a far greater ability to choose to enact an emotion than was previously believed. New research by the psychologist Sarah Gunnery, indicates that the majority of people are capable of pulling a ‘Duchenne’ smile to the extent that it will even fool experts in the area.

If you want to be it, act it, and you are probably much better at acting it than you think you are.

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Does your body language make you look a pushover?

If you’re going into a meeting that could be difficult or you’re about to enter some tough negotiations think carefully about your body language. It will have more of an impact on your confidence and your overall performance than you might realise.

In Be Bulletproof we refer to the research by Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy which reveals that simply standing in a confident, powerful way for a couple of minutes can radically increase your level of circling testosterone, that’s the get-out-and-compete neurohormone. On the other hand, rounded shoulders, a bowed head and closed, defensive body language, will increase your level of cortisol, which is the hormone related to fear and the urge to hide.

A new study by sports psychologists Philip Furley and Geoffrey Schweizer shows just how important our body language can be in determining who comes out on top in a high-stakes situation. A group of people was invited to watch footage of a variety of sport events and to examine the body language of competitors when the ball was out of play. Furley and Schweizer discovered that the viewers were able to gauge remarkably accurately who was winning and who was losing as well as the extent of the gap between winner and loser.

In fact the psychologists argue that when those in the lead see the negative body language of their opponents they are even more motivated to press home their advantage.

To put it round the other way, when we display the submissive body language of a loser, we spur on our opponents to be ever more determined to beat us.

The ability of the viewers in the experiment to judge who was winning and who was losing was not affected by the extent of their knowledge of the sport (table-tennis, handball and basketball) suggesting that these cues are universal and innate.

The lesson is that if you want to avoid losing then act as if you’re winning. Resisting the temptation to close up physically when you’re under attack and adopting, instead, confident poses can not only make you look more confident but can make you feel it as well.

If you want to feel more confident, boost your levels of testosterone, the get-out-and-compete hormone. We now know that you can do this by simply striking a powerful pose and holding it for a couple of minutes. It’s certainly something readers of Be Bulletproof have found to be very useful.

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Sack your inner lawyer – why do we find it so difficult to learn from mistakes?

Why do we find it so difficult to learn from mistakes? We’re all familiar with that powerful part of our mind that works tirelessly to justify our shortcomings. It blames others for our failings and deludes us into believing that we are better, kinder, smarter than we really are. The latest research casts more light on this phenomenon.

In our book on building resilience, Be Bulletproof – How to Achieve Success in Tough Times at Work we call it the “inner lawyer.”

It seems that this is one of those defence mechanisms that may have been passed on from our ancestors. The ability to delude ourselves can actually work in our favour. You may recall from Be Bulletproof, if you’ve read it, the research we quote into the performance of a group of medical students. Those who attributed any successes to their own efforts, but blamed external factors for their failures, far from getting their come-uppance, were more likely to out-perform the average. These students were deploying a phenomenon known as “defensive externalism”.

Our minds, it seems attach greater importance to surviving a situation than to identifying the truth surrounding it. In fact, when it comes to truth-seeking the human brain often does a remarkably poor job.

This has a number of important implications. If we want to deal with an under performer, using a strategy that is predicated on appealing to that individual’s sense of self-awareness, is doomed to fail. What’s more, there is plenty of evidence that the weaker our own performance and the greater our actual shortcomings, the more our inner lawyer is likely to go into overdrive.

An extreme example of this has been uncovered by psychologist Constantine Sedikidese, Professor of Social and Personality Psychology at the University of Southampton. His work among prisoners convicted of offences related to violence or robbery indicates that they tend to rate themselves as more moral, trustworthy, compassionate, self-controlled and honest, not only than the average prisoner, but than the average member of society. It seems that there really is no limit to our ability to delude ourselves.

It could be that these delusional ideas develop because they’re necessary for the prisoner to survive emotionally. But they come at a cost. This form of delusion makes it difficult to learn from the situation that you find yourself in and it could help to explain why rehabilitation rates are consistently below 50 per cent.

Defensive externalism protects us from destructive thoughts, which might be a good thing but it’s less effective when it comes to helping us to learn from our mistakes and remedy an unhelpful or difficult situation.

So, the challenge for those of us who do want to learn from our mistakes and to improve is how reflect on our failures in a way that helps us to reverse them without the toxic thoughts that can make us depressed and rob of us any motivation to change.

This means being able to view previous performances and to understand the errors and the steps required to remedy them in a way that removes the rawness of feeling so there is no element of unhelpful self-judgement. It is the ability to view self-improvement simply as a project with a series of requisite steps that we’re aiming for. Such dispassionate objectivity requires self-awareness and mindfulness.

Mindfulness is one of the techniques that we look at in Be Bulletproof to and it’s increasingly being used to help people develop their resilience. It enables us to think clearly and reduce emotional distortions to our thinking, which in turn allows us to improve our performance in almost any area of life.

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‘Dragons Den’ star reminds us that we should embrace failure on the road to success.

It’s OK to fail before you succeed, says Dragon’s Den’s Peter Jones

As a Dragon on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den Peter Jones is most people’s idea of a successful tycoon. Tall, confident and of course, very wealthy, Jones was a teenage tennis prodigy who opened his own academy and computer business. He was able to buy two houses by the time he was 18.

Then, in his late 20s, married to his childhood sweetheart and with two children, he lost everything. “It was a truly horrible time of my life,” he told The Times on Saturday. “I split from my wife, I lost the business, the homes, the flash car. But it’s easier if you blame yourself. You can make sense of it that way. I’d extended credit to people I shouldn’t have. I’d been careless.” He ended up sleeping on a mattress in an industrial unit for six months and working as a nightclub bouncer to feed his children.

Since then, of course, Jones has rebuilt his career and his life and his now worth millions again. He managed to get a job at Siemens, saw that mobile phones offered an exciting opportunity and worked his way up from there. He’s now thought to be worth nearly half a billion pounds.

Jones’s life could have been a case study in our book Be Bulletproof: How to Achieve Success in Tough Times at Work. The Dragon’s experience says so much about resilience and overcoming tough times at work that our research underlines. It’s interesting to note that Jones faced up to the situation, was honest with himself and didn’t blame anybody else. This is all useful for overcoming adversity, as we’ve discovered.

Although he doesn’t reveal in The Times’ interview much else about what got him through his darkest times, we can make an educated guess based on our experience of resilience and grit at work.

He used what we call “self talk,” this involves reminding himself that he will get through this difficult time. He almost certainly didn’t kid himself that things didn’t look so bad after all, but that little voice in his head, which could have made things worse, instead told him that he could handle the situation.

Perhaps, at some point, he looked at his situation in a more dispassionate, objective way. This would allow him to separate his emotions from the facts. Understandably he would be feeling depressed and dejected, but by being more objective, he would be in a better position to decide what to do next.

Very possibly, like many of the people we interviewed for Be Bulletproof, he realised that this very difficult point in his life was part of his own “personal narrative.” In other words, he understood, that just like a film or book, that his life would have low points from which he would escape, stronger and more determined to succeed. In fact, many of the business people we’ve spoken to before and after writing the book have talked to us about the value of failing.

Peter and Richard Cullen, a father and son team whose Dublin-based, award-winning business, The Jelly Bean Factory is expanding fast told us about their experience of running a company that failed before they enjoyed their current success. “We need to be more accepting of failure in business,” said Peter Cullen. “In the US, for instance, it’s a badge of honour.”
This philosophy has certainly worked for Peter Jones – and for many others who have shown similar resilience and grit, as we discovered when writing Be Bulletproof.

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Control your emotions at work – it will do you more good


This Autumn the American Management Association is offering a course called Managing Emotions in the Workplace”.

The aim is to “Understand how emotions affect your job performance – and learn practical techniques to manage them,” according to the Association. “As you face the pressures of doing more work with more stressful deadlines and workplace demands on personal time, you’re likely to find yourself in situations where it’s critical to control your emotions.”

We very much agree with this sentiment. We found many examples while researching Be Bulletproof – How to Achieve Success in Tough Times at Work where taking a step back and resisting the urge to simply let fly can be a much more productive approach to life. We call this resilience or grit. And we’re not alone – more and more commentators are recognising the value of resilience or grit in the workplace.

According to one management writer on the BBC’s Worldwide website, for instance, “Instead of exploding, it’s probably safer to take a deep breath and hold those emotions in check. Even as many employers have become more casual about dress codes and work schedules, open displays of emotion are still generally frowned upon. Tears or temper tantrums can make both bosses and peers uncomfortable and stigmatise employees, especially women, as weak, unstable or, even worse, manipulative.”

The writer goes on to note that “Millennials” in other words people in their 20s and early 30s, are particularly likely to indulge their emotions when they meet obstacles or suffer setbacks in the workplace. Perhaps this tendency is due to emotional insecurity or perhaps it comes from a sense of entitlement among this age group. Either way, managers, business consultants, psychologists are increasingly coming to understand the value of grit. Not only tha,t but more and more forward thinking organisations such as Starbucks and even the US Army’s West Point Military Academy are now teaching their staff the value of grit and emotional resilience.

This approach doesn’t mean simply bottling up your emotions or starching your stiff upper lip. Instead, it involves the use of a number of tried and trusted techniques to handle more effectively the negative emotions, the stress and the plain, old fashioned unhappiness that affects everyone in their working life from time to time. These techniques could involve writing about your current situation; since a number of psychologists have shown that simply putting your thoughts and feelings into words can improve your mood and your ability to deal with difficult times at work.

There’s also the value of seeing a setback as part of your own personal narrative, the story of your development, complete with ups and downs. Don’t scream and shout about it – get it into perspective by seeing it as another chapter in the story that is your life. Then there is the exciting new science of positive thinking that we also discuss on Be Bulletproof.

Almost always other people are the cause, in one form or another of our unhappiness. So, steeling yourself and then putting into practice more intelligent and effective ways of dealing

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To build resilience, keep a diary of your day’s most positive experiences


Joan Didion, author of The Year of Magical Thinking, Up Close & Personal and Run, River believes that there are two groups of people: those who keep a journal or diary and those that don’t. She also believes that those of us who do keep a journal find life easier to manage than non-diary keepers.

There’s strong evidence now to back up her hunch. Research led by the University of Minnesota suggests that writing down the best parts of your day helps to reduce stress levels. Before you finish work, commit to paper the day’s wins and best experiences and you’ll improve your mood and your ability to withstand knocks.

In Be Bulletproof, our guide to grit and resilience, we look at the value of writing things down – be they good or bad – and also at the new science of positive psychology. This includes the theory of “broaden and build” as well as the importance of simply being grateful for all the good things in your life. We’ve followed up on the work of Professor James Pennebaker who has investigated the value of writing down feelings and experiences to help put them into context and manage them where necessary. We’ve also studied the research findings of Professor Barbara Fredrickson, which show that participants in studies who experience greater levels of positive emotions demonstrate greater creativity, inventiveness and ability see the bigger picture than those who don’t.

Backing up these and our own findings, research from the Academy of Management Journal indicates that people feel lower stress levels in the evenings after they have spent a few minutes writing down positive events at the end of the day. A group of workers were tracked over 15 days and their blood pressure and stress symptoms measured. The effect on these stress indicators of regularly noting down positive achievements such as making a sale, delivering a successful presentation or earning their managers’ praise was then measured. All of those observed benefited from this quick, simple routine.

The positive points and experiences don’t even have to relate directly to work – a really good cup of coffee, a funny cartoon in the paper or a lunchtime walk in the park are all worth recording.

According to Theresa Glomb, a work and organisations professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and co-author of the report, writing down positive experiences could be more effective for reducing work place stress than current antidotes such as flexible working or creating new organisational charts.

More interestingly, according to Glomb, the real value in writing down uplifting experiences comes from recording why they prompted such positive feelings. Doing so emphasises the resources and support that we each have within us such as a sense of humour, being surrounded by friends and family or an absorbing hobby.

After a long day you might quite understandably be keen to get out of the office. But, before you go, as this new research suggests, it’s well worth spending just a few minutes noting the good experiences that you’ve enjoyed, however, small to improve your mood and boost that all important resilience and grit in your professional and home life.

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Army and ‘grit’


The US army is looking at how to head off psychological problems faced by its service personnel such as depression, post-combat stress disorder and suicide – something that is particularly relevant as world leaders debate what military action, if any, they should to take to quell the violent unrest in Syria. Soldiers around the world will be putting themselves on mental if not physical stand by. Could they be the first to be involved in efforts to bring piece to this war torn nation?

Senior personnel in the US Army have been working to avoid rather than treat the detrimental psychological effects of the kind of combat situation that troops might find themselves in if the order is given to take military action in Syria.

Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum, Director of comprehensive Soldier Fitness for the US Army told America’s National Public radio: “We have trained a number of people, and we have gotten feedback from all of them, most of them non-commissioned officers, who are engaged in basic training – you know, drill sergeants and platoon sergeants. And they have really been very enthusiastic that this will be helpful in preparing soldiers not just for combat, but for any challenges they face.”

Cornum and her colleagues have been working with Martin Seligman, chairman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center. Seligman gives the example of a soldier who might call his wife at home but finds no answer. Some servicemen suffering under the strain that active service often imposes might jump to the conclusion that their wives have left them. But Seligman suggests that, instead of jumping to this very negative conclusion they should consider a much more positive option: perhaps their wives have taken the kids for a walk. This is a simple but effective example of being aware of your thoughts and taking charge of them. The army is now taking this and other techniques from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that have been successfully taught to children in schools in the US, the UK and in Australia and it’s using them to help service personnel.

Other experts working in the of field resilience, CBT and positive thinking have also been studying the military. Angela L Duckworth is a colleague of Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center. Given the extent to which “grit” featured in the research we did for Be Bulletproof we’ve been particularly interested in Professor Duckworth’s findings.

When she and Christopher Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, plus two colleagues from the department of Behavioural Sciences and Leadership at United States Military Academy, West Point, looked at indicators for those who would graduate successfully from one of the most important courses at the Academy they discovered that, “Grit predicted completion of the rigorous summer training program better than any other predictor.”

Duckworth and Peterson conclude in their research paper: “In every field, grit may be as essential as talent to high accomplishment…educators and parents, we should encourage children to work not only with intensity but also with stamina. In particular, we should prepare youth to anticipate failures and misfortunes and point out that excellence in any discipline requires years and years of time on task.”

Having long been recognised as the prerequisite for success, innate ability has more recently been set alongside practice and application, thanks to the work of Malcolm Gladwell. Now we believe, it’s time to add a third quality – grit.

So, for those training with the army resilience and grit can bring measurable benefits when it comes to dealing with challenges in personal development and exams. Perhaps more importantly for service personnel who find themselves in the field, facing dangerous situations, long periods away from home, distressing scenes and other severely testing experiences, practical training around the use of grit and various CBT techniques can also help.

When organisations as diverse at West Point Military Academy and Starbucks are teaching the importance of grit and resilience isn’t it time that this vital life lesson became a standard on management training courses in other companies and organisations? What do you think?


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School failure and ‘grit’

School, as the recent A-level and GCSE results have reminded us, is about success. Getting the right grades, securing a place at the university of your first choice and making their parents happy is very much the point of exams for millions of young people.

This year, for the second time in a row, grades have fallen. So after years of continued improvement more students will not be getting the grades they wanted. Although we’re naturally delighted for those young people who did achieve their ideal results, as experts in resilience and “grit” we’re more concerned about those who didn’t.

We’re not alone, it seems. Recently, Nick Hurd the Minister for Civil Society, caused a storm when he said that young people lack the “grit” needed to get a job. “What we see in survey after survey is employers saying qualifications are important, but that just as important to us are so-called soft skills, character skills, the ability to get on with different people, to articulate yourself clearly, confidence, grit, self-control, these kind of qualities, and they are saying we are not seeing enough of this in kids coming out of school,” said Mr Hurd.

Meanwhile, schools themselves are beginning to focus more on this very important area. Last year for instance, pupils at Wimbledon High School were asked how they felt when they failed, in what was promoted under the apparently less than attractive title “Failure Week.”

As headmistress Heather Hanbury told the BBC “it is completely acceptable and completely normal not to succeed at times in life.”

The school organised a series of workshops, assemblies and activities for pupils with parents and teachers discussing their own experience of failure and how they overcame them.

There were also YouTube clips of famous and successful people who have failed at some point during their careers but have then been resilient and have moved on.

We don’t know whether anyone at the school mentioned the word “grit” but other educational facilities have focussed on this idea. During the writing of Be Bulletproof we came across plenty of examples of people who had experienced failure but who had also shown grit and determination and overcome these failures.

Whether they were aware of them or not, these people had used many of the techniques that we discuss in our book – techniques that could also be useful to those young people who this year did not get the exam grades they were hoping for.

These include being aware of your thoughts. Mindfulness is a key part of Buddhism that is of increasing interest to modern psychologists and to those working in management. Essentially it involves being aware of your thoughts and standing back to look at your situation and your emotions more objectively. We also look at the importance of seeing your life as a narrative. As part of research into this idea we heard from experts about the value of writing a letter to yourself – but with an interesting twist. Imagine that the “you” of 10 or even 20 years hence are writing to the “you” of today. Perhaps young people, with help from teachers, parents and careers advisors, could imagine themselves as they might be in their late 20s or early 30s, in the midst of successful careers, writing to themselves as they are now, perhaps confused, disappointed and in need of encouragement.

Some of the people we spoke to who’d done this, mentioned writing lines such as “At the time it seemed like a disaster to you but then you began to realise that there were other avenues open to you. You took a few days to think about what you really wanted to do and then you realised that there were different ways of developing a career in this area and doing the kind of things that you really enjoy. Looking back this was more of a turning point than a stumbling block.”

Wimbledon High School is part of the Girls’ Day School Trust. It’s chief executive, Helen Fraser, told the BBC: “Resilience is so important in working life these days…Wimbledon High School is showing how making mistakes is not necessarily a bad thing, that it is fine to try – and fail – and then pick yourself up and try again.”

Looking at what we discovered from writing Be Bulletproof we couldn’t agree more.


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